Homelessness & the Lack of a Sleep Environment

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi

Dr. Nayantara Santhi holds an academic position at Northumbria University. After completing her Ph.D. at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she joined the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School as a post-doctoral fellow to research how sleep and circadian rhythmicity influence our cognitive functioning.

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Last Updated On November 10th, 2023
Homelessness & the Lack of a Sleep Environment

Key Takeaways

  • Connection Between Homelessness and Loss of Sleep: Homelessness and sleep deprivation are interconnected issues, with many homeless individuals facing difficulties in getting quality rest due to their unstable living conditions.
  • Effects of Sleep Deprivation: Lack of sleep can have severe physical and mental health consequences, including impaired cognitive function, increased risk of depression, anxiety, and various physical health problems.
  • Solving the Issue: Addressing homelessness and sleep deprivation requires a multifaceted approach, including increasing safe shelter spaces, investing in affordable housing initiatives, enacting supportive policies and legislation, and fostering community involvement and support to create lasting change for those in need.

Sleep is something we all need and crave. But for those who are homeless, it can be an elusive thing. It’s a heartbreaking reality that far too many people live with daily. But what are the implications of homeless people on sleep?

Homeless people have become a growing issue in our society, with thousands of individuals struggling to find safe and secure places to rest at night. Not only does this put them at risk for physical harm, but it also affects their mental health and well-being. Lack of sleep is one of the most common symptoms of homelessness, leading to increased stress levels, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

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The lack of necessities such as food and shelter can significantly affect individuals’ physical and mental health. It’s important to understand how these basic needs affect someone’s overall well-being to better support those in need. This article will explore the impact of sleeping without shelter on an individual’s life, the physical and psychological effects of sleep deprivation, and provide insights into how we can help homeless people get back on their feet.

Who Are The Homeless?

A 2021 review of Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source homelessness and public health noted that the homeless are often more than just “a person that has no permanent home.” Three categories of homelessness are proposed:

  • Those without a place to reside.
  • Those in persistent poverty who are forced to move constantly. They may be homeless for brief periods of time.
  • Those who have lost their housing due to personal, social, or environmental circumstances.

And it’s not just a single person who can find themselves homeless, but entire families. About 554,000 individuals may be homeless on any given night in the United States, according to a 2019 study. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

It is also estimated that 1 in 10 young adults Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source aged 18 to 25 experience homelessness in the United States, during a period known as “the transition age.” And among the dangers these youth face is the problem of inadequate sleep.

The Cycle Of Homelessness and Sleep Deprivation

No matter who we are, sleep is a fundamental need that’s necessary for us to live our best lives. Unfortunately, far too many homeless people are struggling and don’t have access to a comfortable place to rest their heads each night. This can result in a cycle of homelessness and sleep deprivation, which can be incredibly difficult.

The effects of poor sleep health on homeless people can be devastating. Research has shown Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  that it can lead to impaired mental clarity, difficulty concentrating, poor decision-making, an increased risk of developing depression, and even physical health issues like heartburn and high blood pressure. It’s also been linked to an increased risk of accidents due to the impaired cognitive abilities associated with lack of sleep.

As a 2020 review noted, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source people experiencing homelessness must receive the help they need to get off the streets and find a place where homeless people sleep. Providing this kind of assistance could help them break free from this vicious cycle and achieve healthier lives.

Helping those in need isn’t just something we should strive for, it’s something we must do to create a more equitable world for all. By supporting initiatives that provide homeless individuals access to safe sleeping spaces, we can empower them with the necessary resources to lead dignified lives filled with quality, restful nights’ sleep.

How Lack of Sleep Can Impact Health

Sleep deprivation has become an increasing problem for homeless adults. With limited or no access to safe, comfortable sleeping spaces, many struggle to get adequate sleep each night – and the consequences can be severe.

When we don’t get enough sleep, our mental and physical health start to suffer. Cognitive functions diminish, impairing our ability to think clearly and make decisions. We may also experience mood swings, anxiety, depression, and reduced immunity – all of which can be exacerbated in homeless adults by living in poverty. In addition, lack of sleep can interfere with our body’s natural healing process and increase the risk of diseases, such as hypertension, stroke, or heart attack.

Sleep deprivation can also create a vicious cycle of reduced productivity. The effects of this cycle are far-reaching, presenting significant challenges to those experiencing homelessness. When someone cannot find a safe and secure shelter, their sleep quality is drastically reduced.

This subjective sleep inadequacy can lead to an overall decline in physical and mental health. This can affect the individual’s ability to complete tasks or handle stressful situations effectively. It can also cause difficulty focusing or remembering information. As a result, it can be much harder for people experiencing homelessness to hold down a job or find employment opportunities.

Therefore, individuals and homeless families must be supported in finding ways to improve their sleep hygiene and access safe sleeping spaces if possible. By ensuring they get enough rest each night, this vulnerable population can protect their health from further damage due to an already precarious situation.

Physical Health and Poor Sleep

Poor sleep can have a significant impact on physical health, affecting several bodily systems and contributing to a range of health problems. Here are three ways poor sleep can impact physical health:

Immune System

Sleep is essential for a healthy immune system, which helps fight off infections and diseases. Chronic sleep deprivation can weaken the immune system, making a person more susceptible to infections like the common cold and flu.

Poor sleep has also been linked to more serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, which may be partly due to the negative impact on the immune system.

See also Flu Season & Sleep

Cardiovascular System

Sleep plays a key role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. During sleep, blood pressure and heart rate naturally decrease, giving the heart and blood vessels a chance to rest and recover. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to high blood pressure, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. Poor sleep has also been linked to inflammation, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.


Sleep is important for regulating metabolism, which is the process by which the body converts food into energy. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Poor sleep can disrupt the balance of hormones that regulate appetite, causing an increase in appetite and cravings for high-calorie, high-fat foods.

Additionally, poor sleep can affect insulin sensitivity, which can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Mental Health and Poor Sleep

Mental health issues can have profound effects on an individual’s sleeping habits. Depression is associated with difficulty sleeping and insomnia, for example. Poor management of a mental condition like OCD can also affect sleep.

People who lack secure housing are also more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety due to their unstable living conditions. This means that many homeless individuals struggle with homelessness and mental health issues related to poor sleep health.

The lack of adequate rest further exacerbates the mental health issues of those without homes, leading them into a vicious cycle of sleeplessness and instability. Without proper treatment or a supportive environment, it can be difficult for homeless people to get the rest they need to properly manage their mental health symptoms.

In addition, a lack of sleep can lead to emotional distress that impacts decision-making abilities and increases the likelihood of risky health behavior. As a result, those affected by homelessness often find themselves in an even more precarious situation than before – struggling with poor sleep health and finding suitable housing solutions.

The Effects of Homelessness on Sleep Quality

It is unsurprising that homelessness can lead to a lack of quality sleep. Homelessness affects an individual’s access to safe and comfortable sleeping areas, making it difficult for them to get the rest they need. Every night, thousands of people in the United States are forced to sleep without shelter or protection from the elements.

The physical and mental toll of living on the streets affects their ability to get adequate rest. Without a fixed address, homeless individuals do not have access to the same resources that other people do, such as beds or blankets. Often, homeless people will have to resort to sleeping in places like parks or alleyways where there is no guarantee of safety from criminals or wild animals. Additionally, some individuals may be forced to engage in activities such as begging for money or scavenging for food which can take away from the valuable time needed for restorative sleep.

Living with limited access to medical care and mental health treatment can make it more challenging to help homeless people sleep. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can lead to insomnia and fragmented sleep, which further compounds their struggle with homelessness. Furthermore, many homeless people sleep while exposed to noise pollution caused by traffic and public transportation, making it even harder for them to find a peaceful place to shut out the world and fall asleep easily.

Chronic fatique due Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source to inadequate sleeping hours may lead people who are homeless into dangerous situations that include risky health behavior while reducing their overall quality of life. Addressing homelessness must go hand in hand with improving one’s access and quality of sleep for individuals experiencing homelessness to regain control over their lives again.

Factors Contributing to Homelessness and Sleep Deprivation

Sleep disturbance for a homeless person can be a vicious cycle difficult to break. It’s a problem affecting millions of people worldwide, and it’s important to understand some of the factors that contribute to it. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common underlying causes of homelessness and sleep deprivation.

The cost of living can be one of the biggest contributing factors to the homeless population and lack of sleep. Many people can’t afford rent or basic necessities in today’s economy, which puts them at risk of becoming homeless and unable to get proper rest. Individuals facing economic hardship may also have difficulty finding employment that pays enough to cover their costs. This makes it difficult for them to secure housing, leading to even more issues with sleep.

Other contributing factors include:

  • Mental health issues
  • Traumatic events
  • Limited access to resources like health care and education

All these things can lead individuals down a path where they’re unable to find stable housing or get adequate rest due to financial constraints or other personal struggles. By understanding these issues individually and providing support systems in place, we can work towards helping those affected by homelessness and sleep deprivation gain access to the resources they need.

At its core, homelessness and sleep deprivation are complex issues that require a multifaceted approach from both local governments and individuals in order for us to make meaningful progress toward solving them. By working together we can create solutions that help alleviate these conditions so everyone can access safe housing and quality rest. With this in mind, let’s continue our efforts toward creating lasting change for those who need it most.

Solutions to Address Homelessness

We all want to feel safe and secure and rest peacefully. Unfortunately, for many people, this is not a reality. Homelessness and sleep disturbance are two problems that can be linked, as inadequate access to safe housing can lead to poor sleep quality.

One potential solution is to increase the number of safe shelter spaces available for the homeless population. This could involve creating additional shelters or ensuring existing shelters have enough beds. Having access to safe spaces can provide a sense of security and stability, making it easier to get good quality sleep. Additionally, providing wraparound services such as mental health support in these shelters can help individuals better manage any underlying conditions contributing to their homelessness or lack of sleep.

Another solution is investing in affordable housing initiatives. Providing affordable housing options can give people experiencing homelessness a chance at a more stable life with access to permanent accommodation. This would also allow them the opportunity for improved sleep hygiene habits as they would have their own bedroom space free from environmental disturbances such as noise or light pollution both of which can impact sleep quality.

It’s clear that steps can be taken to reduce the impact of homelessness and sleep deprivation on society. Through increased investment in safe shelter spaces, wraparound services, and affordable housing initiatives, we can ensure that everyone has access to a good night’s rest and a home they feel secure.

The Role of Policy and Legislation in Addressing Homelessness

The role of policy and legislation in addressing homelessness and sleep deprivation is important. With the right laws in place, we can ensure that people who are facing these issues have access to necessary services. This includes everything from providing shelter and food to offering employment opportunities. By having laws that provide for these basic necessities, we can reduce the number of people living on the streets and suffering from sleep deprivation.

However, it is not enough to create laws – they must also be enforced. Lawmakers need to be held accountable to ensure that their policies are being implemented properly. This means ensuring that organizations like homeless shelters and food banks are adequately funded to provide services to those in need. Additionally, there needs to be a focus on prevention, with efforts put into providing affordable housing options for those struggling with homelessness or sleep deprivation.

Ultimately, effective policy and legislation are essential for creating lasting change when it comes to alleviating homelessness and sleep deprivation. It starts with understanding what critical public health services are needed for disease control and sleep hygiene intervention and then working together across all levels of government to ensure those needs are met. From there, we can build a better future where everybody can have a good night’s sleep and safe housing.

The Role of Communities in Addressing Homelessness and Sleep Health

It’s clear that homelessness and sleep deprivation are pressing issues, but it’s not necessarily just the job of policymakers to address them. Communities have a vital role to play too.

We all have a part to play in ensuring that everyone in our communities has access to safe, secure accommodation and enough restorative sleep. There are so many ways communities can come together and support people struggling with homelessness or sleep deprivation: donating money or items of clothing to volunteering with a local homeless organization. You can even donate a gently used mattress to select organizations, instead of simply trashing it.

These acts of kindness can make an incredible difference in the lives of those affected by these conditions. It may seem small, but it can be powerful. It can provide people with a sense of belonging and community connection, as well as practical help when they need it most. We owe it to ourselves and one another to step up and do whatever we can for those around us who may be facing difficulties with homelessness or sleep deprivation.


Are the homeless sleep deprived?

In comparison to the general population, homeless people get significantly less sleep. In addition, they experience increased daytime fatigue and have a far higher prevalence of insomnia. In short, more often than not, a homeless person has low sleep health.

What is considered rough sleeping?

Rough sleeping is the most apparent manifestation of homelessness sleeping on the streets. It is most commonly associated with sleeping in the open air, but it can also apply to sleeping in a place that was not intended for human habitation. The homeless population includes technically homeless people such as those who sleep in abandoned buildings or vehicles.

How does poverty affect sleep?

In their lifespan, the average person sleeps 229,961 hours or almost one-third of their existence. This number is likely to be significantly lower for individuals who are living in poverty. In actuality, 33.6% of people living in poverty said they slept fewer than the advised seven hours per night.

What are the dangers of living on the street?

The risk of exposure to the elements is significant. Frostbite and hypothermia are severe risks in extreme weather-related health issues, and freezing deaths are not unusual. Heatstroke and severe sunburn are both possible in hot weather. Violence also contributes to fatalities and injuries.

What are the side effects of homelessness?

There is a strong correlation between homelessness and deterioration in both physical and mental health. Homeless people have significantly increased risks for a variety of health and daily functions. Some of these issues homeless adults living with various illnesses include HIV infection, mental illness, TB, and other illnesses.


The prevalence of homelessness and sleep deprivation is an issue that affects many individuals in our society today. It can have a significant impact on the overall health and well-being of those who are affected, leading to further issues with mental health. To address this issue, we must work together as a community to provide resources and support for the homeless population struggling with sleep deprivation.

Policymakers must also take responsibility by creating legislation that addresses homelessness and sleep deprivation. This includes providing adequate housing, access to mental health services, and ensuring that all individuals have the right to safe and comfortable sleeping arrangements.

Finally, we all need to be aware of homelessness and sleep deprivation in our communities. We can do our part by volunteering at homeless shelters, donating food or clothing, or supporting organizations that provide aid to those affected. Working together can help end the cycle of homelessness and sleep deprivation in our communities.

About the author

Eric Ridenour is a health and wellness writer with a strong focus on sleep and nutrition. With a background in health science and psychology, Eric has a deep understanding of the connection between sleep and overall well-being. His expertise has been sought by various businesses and individuals, and his work has been featured in reputable publications such as Thrive Global, Drug Report, and Authority Magazine. Eric's commitment to promoting better sleep and comprehensive wellness is evident in his writing and consultations. He is a published author working on his second book.

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